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February 26

February 26, 1942 – Walt Disney is Awarded the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, and Fantasia Gets Two Special Oscars

Walt Disney receiving the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award

At the 14th Annual Academy Awards, held on February 26, 1942, at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, it appeared to be a banner year for the Walt Disney Studios. Although Fantasia had not been the commercial success Walt had hoped it would be, it had still been a major innovation when it came to the process of sound in motion pictures. At his awards ceremony, Leopold Stokowski, the conductor of the film, was awarded a special Academy Award; a special Academy Award was presented to Walt Disney, William Garity, John N. A. Hawkins, and the RCA Manufacturing Company for the film, as well. On top of this, Walt Disney was fourth recipient of the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award.

The Irving G. Thalberg Award honors those “creative producers whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production.” It honors Irving Thalberg, who, at the age of twenty-three, became the vice president and head of production for Louis B. Mayer. Before he died of pneumonia at the age of 37, his work had made MGM one of Hollywood’s most prestigious studios. Disney became the fourth recipient of the award, and although he only had about three feature films and several shorts under his belt, it showed that Disney had made many strides in the fields of animation and motion pictures.

Leopold Stokowski in the iconic image from Fantasia

Leopold Stokowski and his associates were given a special award by the Academy “for their unique achievement in the creation of a new form of visualized music in Walt Disney’s production, Fantasia, thereby widening the scope of the motion picture as entertainment and as an art form.” The other special award—given to Disney, technicians William Garity and John N. A. Hawkins, and RCA—was for “their outstanding contribution to the advancement of the use of sound in motion pictures through the production of Fantasia.” The RCA stereo system that had been honored was truly remarkable for its day, and helped create a concert-like atmosphere for the audience. It was a very expensive system, requiring special equipment to be installed in theaters, which meant that the film originally opened in only 14 theaters.

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